Keeping a secret about anything going on in Rome from Mary Hardin Thornton is not an easy task, but the Downtown Development Authority pulled it off Friday. Thornton was in tears as she walked to the stage of the DeSoto Theatre to accept the DDA William Fricks Award for a lifetime of service to the community.
"When you receive an award named for someone, it is more than an honor. It is a responsibility," Thornton said. “Bill Fricks was an incredible man and his name means something in our community. Proverbs 22:1 says 'A good name is more desirable than great riches.' I am so humbled that my downtown friends think I deserve this — I am inspired to be a better person. What a great Christmas present."
Thornton is a child of City Hall. Her father, Martin H. "Buddy" Mitchell, was chairman of the city commission when she was growing up and attending West Rome High School. She served as head of the Keep Rome Floyd Beautiful program for over a decade before joining Adams Management this past summer.
The award is given in the name and spirit of the late city commissioner and downtown businessman Bill Fricks. Emcee Robert Smyth told the downtown group Friday that Thornton's "spirit and love of community definitely shines brighter than most, just like Mr. Fricks."
She was recognized for years of efforts to help beautify Rome, reduce waste and promote the environment and rivers that shape the city.
The DDA uses the annual Christmas event to dole out several awards.
Wayne Robinson was recognized with the Golden Nail Award for his work in restoring The Vogue building, at the corner of Broad Street and Third Avenue. The building is a 1909 brick two-story with origins that actually go back into the 1800s. It was used as a general mercantile store, a furniture store and was even a mortuary at one time. When Robinson peeled backed the most recent storefront, he revealed the old Vogue sign and was able to restore it and get it working again. The building is now used as a special events facility.
The Forum on Ice was recognized with the Quality of Life Award. Thomas Kislat and Mike Bankston accepted the award on behalf of the Forum River Center. The ice rink that opened in early November and will continue to operate through December 29 has been a huge hit with young and old skaters and families alike.
Mike Sams of River Dog Outpost was honored as the DDA Volunteer of the Year. Sams was instrumental in bringing the Spirit of the Sun Paddleboard race to Rome in 2018 and has been active on the parking committee of the DDA throughout the year.
The new Courtyard by Marriott was honored with the Economic Partnership Award. The 124-room hotel had long been a dream of city leaders. Now a reality, the hotel provides additional meeting space as well as a convenient location to help draw more convention business to downtown Rome.
Kathy Mull of Hardy Realty received the inaugural Downtown Champion Award. The award was given to recognize someone who does not formally sit on any of the DDA committees but spends a great deal of their time focusing on the downtown business district.